PHILADELPHIA – A Sudanese woman who refused to recant her Christian faith in the face of a death sentence, which was later overturned, has arrived in the United States after a flight from Rome.
Meriam Ibrahim stopped in Philadelphia briefly before she headed to Manchester, New Hampshire, where she was greeted by cheering supporters waving American flags.
Her husband, who has U.S. citizenship, had previously lived in New Hampshire and has family already there.
Officials at Philadelphia International Airport say she arrived with her family late Thursday afternoon.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was at the airport to greet her.
Meriam's husband, Daniel Wani, had previously lived in New Hampshire, where hundreds of southern Sudanese refugees have settled over the years. He had been granted U.S. citizenship when he fled to the United States as a child to escape civil war, but he later returned and was a citizen of South Sudan.
Sudan initially blocked Ibrahim from leaving the country even after its highest court overturned her death sentence in June. At one point, the family took refuge at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum.
Devlin said Ibrahim expressed some sadness when he talked to her Wednesday.
"She is leaving everything she knows behind," he said.
Ibrahim had been sentenced to death over charges of apostasy. Her father was Muslim, and her mother was an Orthodox Christian. She married Wani, a Christian from southern Sudan, in 2011. Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims. By law, children must follow their father's religion.
Manchester, with 110,000 people, is northern New England's largest city and has been a magnet for immigrants and refugees for decades. There are about 500 Sudanese living in the city just north of the Massachusetts state line.
A small gathering is planned at the airport tonight, said Gabriel Wani, Ibrahim's brother-in-law. He spoke to his brother and said the family is doing well.
"We're just going to go and bring them home," he said. "They want to come home and they want to rest."
Monyroor Teng, pastor of the Sudanese Evangelical Covenant Church in Manchester, said Ibrahim's release gives him hope.
"People are really happy to receive them when they come home," he said. "It's a miracle to me. I didn't think that something like this would happen because in Sudan, when something happens like that, it's unreal. It happens to so many people. Maybe, who knows, I'm praying for those (other) ladies who are in jail and those who have died."